What were the colours of the interiors of German tanks of WWII? This question is of some importance to modellers wishing to build a vehicle with open hatches. Thanks to the researches of Hilary Doyle and Tom Jentz, we have answers.
RAL Colours Inside
- RAL 8012 Red Primer
- RAL 7033 Grey-Green
- RAL 1001 Elfenbein (Ivory)
Dark Red Primer
Germany then used the RAL colour system which is still in use today, although some of the most famous Panzer colours, e.g. Dark Yellow, have been discontinued. You can order RAL colour sample books from various sources, they tend to start at $ 50. The published colour samples match up quite well to original paint on actual tanks, but the tank paint was applied by hand (during manufacture, at least) in a single layer and is usually a little lighter than the samples.
During manufacture, all German armoured vehicles were painted in a dark red rustproof primer. (This red primer is a part of German engineering culture, and was used to prime most heavy machinery, before, during, and since the war). This colour was RAL 8012 and I would describe it as a dark "brick red", with a slight hint of brown/yellow (colours described as "brick red" sometimes have a slight hint of pink). On the finished vehicle, the engine compartment was usually left in this colour, the only exception I have seen to this was an early Tiger 1, where engine and radiator compartments were grey-green (see below).
The red RAL 8012 would also show up on other unpainted areas, e.g. probably under the hull, and sometimes on the rims of hatches, or turret rings – but only if the red paint was actually inaccessible when the hatch was closed or the turret bolted in place during painting. The German painters were typically thorough, and in a dubious case, they would overpaint this red colour rather than leave it alone, especially early in the war. For example, the upper surface inside the nose of PzKfwg III and IV was overpainted, despite the fact that you would see it once in a blue moon. On the other hand, I have seen a late StuG III with the internal frame surrounding the commander’s hatch left in red, though the hatch and roof were Ivory. This RAL 8012 was probably left as the initial colour of the tracks, but it would soon wear off them during driving. Your tracks are the same colour as whatever you are driving through!
As for engines, Mr. Doyle has "never found one where you could tell the original colour". But it is known that satin black was the primary colour on Maybach engines.
For the first part of the war, and probably before the war, the official paint scheme for tank crew compartments mandated that this red colour be completely overpainted. There were two colours used; an ivory colour for the upper part of the compartment, and a grey-green colour for the lower part.
This grey-green is still something of a mystery. Despite extensive research, Mr. Doyle has not yet found its number. I compared a sample of it to an *incomplete* RAL colour chart, and found the closest match to be RAL 7033. In this lower area, the grey-green covered just about everything. Transmission boxes and other modules, which were perhaps manufactured separately, got this same colour. Torsion bars, levers, storage boxes, etc. were painted uniformly grey-green. In late 1942, the manufacturers were ordered to stop using the grey-green paint, and leave the bottom of the tank in its original red primer (see above). This was definitely a step backwards in terms of ergonomics – the red paint was quite dark. But when you look in the late-war vehicles, red primer is what you find down below. Sometimes you will find a red lower area with a grey-green transmission box or turret motor, probably because items could be stockpiled for some time before use.
The colour for the upper part of the interior is no mystery. It was RAL 1001, then called Elfenbein, i.e. Ivory. (Note: if you buy a modern RAL colour book, you will find that the name Elfenbein has been moved to another colour! Trust the numbers, not the names.) This I would describe as a pale beige, or deep cream colour. During 1941 and 1942, some manufacturers were sent letters ordering them to "stop using Beige for the interior and return to the original colour". What Beige means is not recorded; probably they were using one of the new North African colours to save money. This indicates that while we may discover the official rules for painting, we can’t say that they apply to 100% of actual vehicles. Within this ivory area of the tank, all items of what I would call "working machinery" were painted black. This includes MG mounts, movable handles, vision ports, gearboxes and handwheels, etc. Also, it seems that every equipment stowage point was labelled, by hand at first, and later with a decal.
In September 1944, an order went out to stop using the Ivory paint. This seems like sheer idiocy, but there are Panthers and Hetzers to be found with 100% red interiors. Other simplifications were being made to tank manufacture at the same time – Zimmerit was discontinued, for example. However, there must have been complaints, because at the very end of 1944 the Ivory paint was officially reinstated. The main gun of a Panzer would be painted Ivory with the rest of the interior. Most German tank guns followed a very similar design, which brought out several working levers and switches on the right hand face of the breech block; this face was left as unpainted steel, and presumably well-oiled with light machine oil. The interior of the breech block was also unpainted steel, as was the large lever with a round housing on the bottom right side of it; but most of the breech block was Ivory.
The boundary between the Ivory and the Other Colour (red or grey-green) was somewhat arbitrary. Examples that I have observed are as follows:
- Turrets were all Ivory inside with turret floors in the Other Colour, grey-green or red.
- Legs supporting the turret floor were typically painted in both colours, with a cut-off line carefully painted exactly at the level of the inside turret rim. This is called "lack of imagination".
- PzKfwg III and IV were painted Ivory on side and rear walls right down to the floor, with the floor, ammo bins and transmission unit in the Other Colour; also the Other Colour on the lower side walls right at the front. The dividing line in the PzKfwg III and StuG III was a convenient slanting strut beside the driver, in the PzKfwg IV it was an imaginary vertical line just inches forward of where the drum brakes cut the hull.
- Inside the Tiger, the bottom of the sponsons was used as the boundary, and an imaginary waterline ran across the back wall at this level, dividing Ivory from the Other Colour.
Stowage boxes on Panzers were made of thin sheet metal, and apparently they were always painted in a nearly-matt black. After being bolted into place, they would be overpainted just like the rest of the tank; however, if they had lids, their interior would retain the black colour. This applies from small boxes of MG optics, all the way up to the large turret storage bins. However, all of the examples which we have examined so far are from the first half of the war, so we can’t assume anything about the later vehicles.
Seats and protective headpads seem to have been always in black leather, or black rubber in the case of the smaller protective pads.
Electric junction boxes were typically black, but apparently there was one in the turret painted a dull pale blue colour. This colour was also applied to a small box on the front of the engine wall, and the small-but-crucial firing safety switch (a rectangular box about 10cm long, on the upper right side of the breech block). These blue boxes were standard fittings, nearly identical in all Panzers I have seen.
The larger electric cables were in unpainted (grey?) woven metal sleeves, or they were run through tubular guides which were painted just like the surrounding area.
The crew hatches of a tank are frequently left open in the field, and the last thing you want your enemy to see is a large ivory circle in the midst of shrubbery. So, the insides of crew hatches were painted in the base exterior colour during manufacture. However, they rarely LOOKED like the exterior – the outside would be dusty and faded, or repainted or camouflaged, and the inside of the hatch would retain factory-fresh paint.